Enforcing Maine's Anti-Bullying Law is Key to Protecting Students

Nov 28, 2017

I’ve been bullied and harassed for most of my school career, from about third grade onward. I encountered mean girls and guys who obviously needed some kind of help, whether counseling or a different outlet for their anger. I’ve been threatened with loss of friends, the destruction of my reputation, and retaliation.

The worst part of it started in sixth grade and briefly ended for a year in the eighth. That was until it picked up with a harsher intensity freshman year of high school. It was a battle I fought through blood, sweat, and tears, which I would eventually lose.

Though I’m not writing this for you to hear some sob story. 

The purpose of this is to not be silenced. I refuse to be silenced by anyone, including myself, anymore. There is still a problem with how high schools handle incidents of bullying or harassment in any capacity, whether it’s outside of school or not. 

The law signed in 2012 by Governor LePage, is meant to give schools more implementable punishments for the perpetrator, allows schools to punish actions that happen off campus as well as on, and it gives a universal definition for bullying, which can also work for harassment.

The document defines bullying as any “written, oral or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof directed at a student or students.” The law goes on to specify that it’s bullying and or harassment of any kind if it physically harms the student(s), puts them in fear of physical harm or retaliation, disrupts any and all ability to participate in their academics, or is based on discrimination of a certain characteristic.

This seems like a pretty concrete definition, and the student handbook at my school has almost the same definitions. Though the real question is, how can Maine schools best enforce this law? For the laws our state creates do nothing if they’re not enforced. 

Erin Maguire, a vice-principal at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish, Maine, whom I interviewed over email, told me that her school had procedures in place before the law was enacted. They also had an emphasis on freshman instruction for both the students and their advisory board, because that was the most likely grade to be bullied in. The small fish in the pond effect, I guess. 

If your school’s policies aren’t clear enough or you don’t feel like they’re going to give you the help you need; open up to an adult you trust, your parents, or your closest friend. For me, in sophomore year I cried in my English teacher’s classroom weekly. Trust me, it will only get easier if you talk about it. Hiding it and dwelling on it won’t help you. It’ll make it hurt more. 

For the teachers, friends, parents, and peers of victims or survivors, watch out for the warning signs. They include: changes in eating, decreases in academics, loss of friends, wariness of social engagements. As well as insomnia, frequent nightmares, loss of self-esteem, reclusion, and self-destructive behaviors, to name some. Although every person’s ability to deal with the bullying is different, some students are very good at masking pain. Teachers, if you notice any of these warning signs you should talk to that student about what’s going on, and listen, sometimes all we need is a non-judgmental ear. 

So even though I’ve gone through several years of bullying and or harassment, and carry an unfortunate bias. I’ve found that I can help others, and that is all I’ve ever strived to do. 

Cassandra Smith is a student at Brunswick High School.